PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Pablo Held (London album launch for Investigations Pizza Express Dean Street 16 June)

The Pablo Held Trio
L-R: Pablo Held, Jonas Burgwinkel, Robert Landfermann
Photo courtesy of artribute.de

Cologne-based pianist PABLO HELD’s long-standing trio, with ten albums to its name, is one of the groups at Edition 10 at Pizza Express Dean Street, celebrating the album’s tenth anniversary. The Pablo Held Trio will appear on 16 June. Here he talks about UK audiences, the move to Edition, listening strategies and how “standards have crept into our set.” Interview by Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: You have played a few times in the UK now?

Pablo Held: Yes, we’ve played at the Barbican, we played at Cheltenham with John Scofield, and Gateshead, and Birmingham, at the Verdict in Brighton and a couple of times at Pizza Express, and of course the Vortex.

LJN: And how have you found UK audiences?

PH: We are accustomed to getting a very enthusiastic response, the audiences are very receptive, listening to us very closely, responding. Maybe it has something to do with the way I was “brought up” musically, through my teacher John Taylor, and also because there is so much great music coming out of the UK, and maybe that resonates with our music. I’ve always had a great feeling playing in the UK.

LJN: An important part of what you do in Cologne is your role in the Klaeng Collective based around the Stadtgarten…

PH: It’s very active. We are seven musicians, and we founded the collective back in 2009/10. We all noticed that we were ending up playing in a lot of projects together – we decided to find a name, a distinctive identity. We started putting on an annual festival which in the start was focussed on our projects, which has gradually changed into us inviting different bands, and a time came when we didn’t even play at our own festival. There is a lot of activity which we, the seven musicians of Klaeng decide on together.

LJN: You made nine albums as a trio on the Pirouet label, and have just made your tenth album Investigations for Edition. What’s the story?

PH: Dave Stapleton first reached out to me about six years ago. He asked if I might be interested in doing something with Edition. I was very close to Pirouet and didn’t want to go anywhere else. Over all these years we were very fortunate to put out nine records of mine and also Robert (Landfermann) has put out records of his own, and Jonas (Burgwinkel) and I have played on other projects with them too.

Then the moment came when Pirouet closed down. I waited six months to see if it really was closing, and then started to talk to a lot of labels large and small. And tried to get a good view of the state of the marketplace. And Dave was really the only one with a really optimistic view of the market and of the scene. I liked that.

LJN: And how did it work practically?

PH: Well we did the record first and then we looked for a label. What Dave got from me was a finished master. It was a close process, we talked it all through. His thing is that he is very interested in social media and new media, streaming, things which until that point I didn’t know much about. The big difference for me came after the recording. It was about how to market it, how to get it across to people who wouldn’t have noticed that it was out.

LJN: My ear was caught by the track Dr Freeds. I wondered about Ravel….

PH: Ravel has been a major influence for me. There are certain pieces where he doesn’t use so many full chords but rather two- or three-voice chords. And yes the basic idea for this piece was not to use chords but a two-part melody with a bass accompaniment. So I assigned one note for the left hand and two notes for the right hand. That was my limitation. And out of limitation comes a lot of inspiration for me. To think outside the box and not to do things that you are accustomed to do. And it occurs to me as an afterthought that this tune is different from the others – which maybe is why it stands out…

LJN: You gave one interview about seven years ago in which you said: “There are intensive phases in which I deal only with only one thing, which then flows into my own work at some point.” Is that something you still do?

PH: My processes have changed a little bit, but yes I still do that kind of thing once in a while, to concentrate on one person and only listen to that person – it can take up to a month or so, but it has loosened up.

LJN: And who have been listening to recently?

PH: I have been listening a lot to Ahmad Jamal’s music. And it wasn’t my first Ahmad Jamal phase… I’m still discovering different things. My initial interest was what it was that Miles found inspiring. To give me a better sense not just of AJ but also of Miles. I have been listening to the very early records. Everybody knows “Pershing” but there have been other great records before that.

LJN: Some groups – like the Bad Plus – contrast their own knotty/tricky/original music with music that the audience will be very familiar with. How do you approach that?

PH: Well in the last two or three years sometimes standards have been finding their way into our live sets. And we made the record of classical tunes, Armonia Recondita (2015). But I never choose songs because of how many people are likely to know them… It’s more that I can find something in a song that I haven’t written that I find interesting and can use it as a vehicle for us.

Sometimes standards have crept up into our set, but it was not a choice or anything – it just happened. It happened that Robert played the opening motif for Monk’s Mood and we sort of answered him with other melodic material, melodic and harmonic fragments of other Monk tunes… (pp)

Edition 10 will feature Phronesis, Tim Garland, Pablo Held and Slowly Rolling Camera

LINKS: Bookings for Pablo Held Trio at Pizza Express on 16 June (7.30pm start)
Pablo Held Trio website
CD review of Investigations by Patrick Hadfield

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